The buzz was getting louder. I was showing a video clip in a parish hall full of middle schoolers, and as I searched for the source of the disturbance, I spotted a clutch of fidgeting students in the back. But they weren’t the ones talking. Two adult volunteers huddled behind them, were discussing the day’s lesson. Of course we catechists need to plan, but the noise was really distracting. That set me thinking about the example I set. Did I listen to my students as well as I expected them to listen to me? So I promised myself I’d reduce my classroom talks by 20 percent. I’d do less explaining and more listening. I’m convinced my students came away with a deeper understanding and love for Jesus that year. Now I start every year searching for new ways to button my catechetical lip. Here are some strategies to try.
“What do you think of this story?” Jesus begins many parables by asking what his disciples think. Older students love to share opinions and a brief, beginning of the year poll opens the door to good communication. Ask what students are interested in learning this year (this is a good time for them to write questions about their faith that they don’t want to ask aloud), what they liked about last year, etc. Whether it’s an anonymous, written poll or an informal oral one, it’s never a test. Still, you’ll learn volumes.
Let them talk
If you want your students to listen when you speak, build “noise time” into every lesson plan. When students are free to talk as they work on projects and activities they’re more likely to settle down later. It also establishes clear signals for when it’s okay to talk, and when it’s time to listen.
And let them be silent
Teach students sign language for the letters A, B, C, and D and have them sign answers to multiple-choice questions about your lesson. Or give them color-coded cards they can hold up to signify their answers.
Be aware of your voice
It’s easy for teachers to get caught up in what we’re saying. We sometimes think repeating ourselves will get our point across, but the truth is that older students tune us out quickly. Whenever you speak in front of your class, keep one eye on students’ reactions and one eye on the clock. Keep lectures short and sweet. If students fidget, it’s time to try something else.
Connie Clark is a catechist at Saint Kilian Catholic Church in Mission Viejo, California. Her latest books are 12 Fun and Easy Plays for Middle Schoolers and 50 Prayer Services for Middle Schoolers (Twenty-Third Publications). Her website is connieclark.org.
This article was originally published in RTJ’s creative catechist September 2013.
Photo: PeopleImages, istock